Today I read a great article by Minnesota attorney Randall Ryder titled New Attorney? Don’t Get Intimidated by Opposing Counsel. The article struck a cord with me as it is a proponent of the same philosophy that I am advocating in my own blog–don’t be intimidated by a bully, do not react with words in kind and use the “Rules” to win. Here it is and I hope it hits a cord with you too.
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Last spring I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Royal Globe Theatre in London, England. On display there was a plaque titled “Quoting Shakespeare.” It brought a smile to my face when I read the passage as I realized how much of Shakespeare is in our everyday vernacular. There to I realized how many distinctive quotes there that I use over and over again as a Discovery Referee. Here are a few that you should keep handy to sprinkle into your arguments during your discovery battles.
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Growing up in an Italian household, our dinners consisted of salad, pasta, wine and an argument. Afterwards we all went out for ice cream with no thoughts of the argument that took place at the dinner table. That is because we thought of arguments as a sport and there was no reason to hold any grudges. However, when I became a lawyer I was surprised to find that lawyers did hold grudges despite the fact that law by its nature is an adversarial process and we are professional arguers.
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Cost of proof sanctions are designed to compensate for unnecessary expenses resulting from proving matters unreasonably denied. You don’t have to win the lawsuit to be awarded these sanctions. Weil and Brown, Cal. Prac. Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2010), ¶8:1405 citing Smith v. Circle P Ranch Co., Inc. (1978) 87 CA3d, 267, 276. They way to win this motion is to set it up from the beginning.
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Nine months after the Special Interrogatories were propounded, the Discovery Referee, found that the plaintiffs had “deliberately misconstrued the question” as to economic damages and determined that “the objections and each of them to be unreasonable, evasive, lacking in legal merit and without justification”. Clement at 1284 The Referee recommended that the motion to compel further responses be granted and that plaintiffs were to reimburse defendant $4,950.00 for legal fees, $40 for filing the motions to compel and $1,642.50 for defendants portion of the Discovery Referee’s fees for a total sanction of $6,632.50. The trial court agreed with the recommendation.
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Attorneys easily spew out the objection “the information you are seeking is not relevant to the subject matter of the litigation” as easily as they say “Good morning.” If you are the propounding party your reaction is probably to be to yell out “It is too relevant!” because it doesn’t even appear that the responding party actually thought it through before spewing out the objection. But what exactly is relevancy? It seems to be a nebulous term that invokes images of catching clouds with your hands or like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography “I know it when I see it”?
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You have been served with the Motion to Compel Further Responses with a Separate Statement of Items in Dispute the size of your fist and your response is due in two weeks. Now what do you do? First, take a deep breath. This is the time you decide when to “hold them and when to fold them” because how you respond may end up setting the tone between you and opposing counsel for the entire case.
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When I started this blog I asked fellow attorneys what issues they would like me to address. I received this response from a lawyer in San Francisco:

Key problem – judges that won’t crack down on parties that lodge bogus objections and don’t answer interrogs, and object to discovery demands that are straight forward. Amount of sanctions awarded is usually pitiful.
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Imagine this: At the beginning of the case you serve interrogatories asking basic information about your case. Thirty-five (35) days later you receive responses that state for every interrogatory:

“Vague, ambiguous, overbroad, burdensome, oppressive, not likely to lead to admissible evidence and the information is equally accessible to the defendant. Plaintiff further objects on the grounds of attorney client privilege and the work product doctrine. See Nacht & Lewis Architect, Inc. v. Superior Court (1996) 47 CA4th 214.

Does this sound all too familiar? The frustration level is high with attorneys as it will take at a minimum 121 days to get basic information if you have to file a motion to compel further responses. Meanwhile the court is scheduling a trial date and your discovery train hasn’t even left the station.
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